World War II

Telegrams and memories

From the conclusion of an article about the role of the Soviet Union in the outbreak of the Second World War, and the anniversary of 1939, viewed from today’s Russia:

A society that suffers badly from complexes, has lost its basic moral guidelines over a period of a hundred years, and is excited by the drumming of imperial propaganda, wants Stalin. Not Stalin in person, but his radiant image. A government that has no other suggestions or other icons provides what is demanded. It scratches where the itching is. It’s simple, natural and – let’s admit it – even pleasant.

And another article, on the same subject. Interestingly, some of the comments by Polish readers are in English.

Russia poll on Stalin and WWII

Results of a recent Levada poll conducted among 1600 Russians in 128 population centres of 46 regions of Russia(August 23-31 2009):

Considering the scale of repression in the Stalinist era and the forced displacement (expulsion) of several peoples, do you agree that the Soviet leader Joseph Stalin should be viewed as a state criminal?

Strongly agree

12

Mostly agree

26

On the whole, do not agree

32 

Strongly disagree

12 

No opinion

18

Who do you consider bore the primary responsibility for the repressions and losses our country suffered from the 1930’s  to the early 1950s?

Stalin

19

The state system

19

Both Stalin and the state  system

41

Neither Stalin nor the state system / someone else / the enemies of our country

  6

No opinion

15

Is it possible to speak of features shared in common by the state systems that were built in the 1930s by Stalin in the Soviet Union and by Hitler in Germany?

Of course, they have much in common

11

Yes, they have some features in common

32

No, they have nothing in common

19

It is totally unacceptable to compare the USSR to Nazi Germany

22

No opinion

16

Should the events of September 1939, when Red Army troops entered Poland and occupied territories specified in the secret protocols Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, be widely publicized?

Yes, young people no longer know the history of their own side, with all its light and dark aspects

36

Yes, so that it doesn’t happen again

20

Yes, because there was nothing wrong about it, with these actions Stalin was able to prepare for war

10

No, one can’t alter the past, and all countries have plenty of dark pages in their history

16

Don’t know, not interested

8

Other

<1

Don’t know anything about it

12

No opinion

9

(Via Marko Mikhkelson)

70th anniversaries

The recent Independent article by Norman Davies analyzing the real causes of World War II, which essentially sees the source of the actual conflict as the signing of the Nazi-Soviet Pact of August 23, 1939, ends with a listing of upcoming anniversaries on which the Medvedev/Putin government in Moscow is going to find it hard to maintain silence:

As the Russian government must realise, however, Poland will only be the start of a long, uncomfortable season. After Poland, it will be Finland’s turn, and the 70th anniversary of the Winter War. Stalin’s aggression against Finland in November 1939 was every bit as blatant as his actions against Poland. His German partner was not involved, and the despatch of a million troops into a neighbouring country to deport the entire population of the frontier area can hardly be described as the doings of a neutral well-wisher. It led to the expulsion of the USSR from the League of Nations. And after Finland, there will be Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Romania. At every stage, there will be scenes of peace-loving tanks, of executions and deportations, and of weeping patriots.

Stalin’s Politburo speech, August 19, 1939

The Finland-Swedish historian and architect Carl O. Nordling (1919-2007) reconstructed Stalin’s speech to the Politburo of August 19, 1939 from texts published in Novy Mir (Moscow) and Revue de Droit International (Geneva). An excerpt (the bold text appears in both versions, the normal text only in Novy Mir and the italicized text only in Revue de Droit International):

The question of war and peace has entered a critical phase for us. Its solution depends entirely on the position which will be taken by the Soviet Union. We are absolutely convinced that if we conclude a mutual assistance pact with France and Great Britain, Germany will back off from Poland and seek a modus vivendi with the Western Powers. War would be avoided, but further events could prove dangerous for the USSR.

On the other hand, if we accept Germany‘s proposal, that you know, and conclude a non-aggression pact with her, she will certainly invade Poland, and the intervention of France and England is then unavoidable. Western Europe would be subjected to serious upheavals and disorder. In this case we will have a great opportunity to stay out of the conflict, and we could plan the opportune time for us to enter the war.

The experience of the last 20 years has shown that in peacetime the Communist movement is never strong enough for the Bolshevik Party to seize power. The dictatorship of such a Party will only become possible as the result of a major war.

Our choice is clear. We must accept the German proposal and, with a refusal, politely send the Anglo-French mission home.

It is not difficult to envisage the importance which we would obtain in this way of proceeding. It is obvious, for us, that Poland will be destroyed even before England and France are able to come to her assistance. In this case Germany will cede to us a part of PolandOur immediate advantage will be to take Poland all the way to the gates of Warsaw, as well as Ukrainian Galicia.

Germany grants us full freedom of action in the Pribaltic/three Baltic States and recognizes our claim on Bessarabia. She is prepared to acknowledge our interests in Romania Bulgaria and Hungary.

Yugoslavia remains an open question, the solution of which depends on the position taken by Italy. If Italy remains at the sides of Germany, then the latter will require that Yugoslavia be understood as her zone of influence, and it is also by Yugoslavia that she will obtain access to the Adriatic Sea. But if Italy does not go with Germany, then the latter will depend on Italy for her access to the Adriatic Sea, and in this case Yugoslavia will pass into our sphere of influence.

This in case that Germany would emerge victorious from the war. We must, however, envisage the possibilities that will result from the defeat as well as from the victory of Germany. In case of her defeat, a Sovietization of Germany will unavoidably occur and a Communist government will be created. We should not forget that a Sovietized Germany would bring about great danger, if this Sovietization is the result of German defeat in a transient war. England and France will still be strong enough to seize Berlin and to destroy a Soviet Germany. We would be unable to come effectually to her assistance/to the aid of our Bolshevik comrades in Germany.

Therefore, our goal is that Germany should carry out the war as long as possible so that England and France grow weary and become exhausted to such a degree that they are no longer in a position to put down a Sovietized Germany. 

Read it all.

(Hat tip: Mari-Ann Kelam)

70 years ago

The BBC’s Andrei Ostalski analyzes media coverage of the Nazi-Soviet Pact and the outbreak of World War II:

Until quite recently, the Soviet press had described Nazi leaders as “outcasts”, “moral degenerates”, “misfits”.

Now the press needed to learn how to describe them respectfully, as the leaders of a friendly state.

Furthermore, Soviet journalists needed to correct their psychological approach to this extremely quickly – Stalin had set 23 August as the absolute deadline for von Ribbentrop’s arrival in Moscow for the signing of the pact.

And the Orwell diaries are now covering the events that led up to the start of hostilities on September 1, 1939:

1. Emergency Powers Act passed evidently without much trouble. Contains clauses allowing preventive arrest, search without warrant & trial in camera. But not industrial conscription as yet. [Wireless 6 pm]
2. Moscow airport was decorated with swastikas for Ribbentrop’s arrival. M. Guardian adds that they were screened so as to hide them from the rest of Moscow. Manchester Guardian [h]

Russia defends Stalin’s deal with Hitler

By Jonas Bernstein
Moscow
20 August 2009

Soviet dictator Josef Stalin (file photo)

Soviet dictator Josef Stalin (file photo)

Sunday, August 23, marks the 70th anniversary of the so-called Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact – the non-aggression treaty signed in 1939 by Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov and German Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop. The pact included a secret protocol dividing Eastern and Central Europe into Nazi and Soviet spheres of influence. Days after it was signed, first German and then Soviet forces invaded Poland.

The anniversary’s approach has sparked a debate in Europe. Western governments condemn Adolf Hitler and Josef Stalin as two equally murderous variants of totalitarianism. The Russian government calls that comparison a “distortion” of history.

On August 17, the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service issued a statement saying it had declassified documents showing that the 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact was the Soviet Union’s “only available means of self-defense.”

The spy agency’s demarche was just the latest in a series of Russian government statements that critics say appear to defend Soviet dictator Josef Stalin and justify actions he took shortly before and during World War II.

In early May, Russian Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu introduced legislation in parliament that would make it a crime to deny the Soviet victory in World War II.
Later in May, President Dmitri Medvedev issued a decree setting up a presidential commission to counter what he called attempts to “falsify history.”

At a meeting in early July, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe passed a resolution designating August 23 – the anniversary of the signing of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact – as a day of remembrance for the victims of both Stalinism and Nazism.

Russian delegates to the European security body walked out of the meeting, in protest. Russia’s Foreign Ministry denounced the OSCE resolution as “an attempt to distort history with political goals,” while Russia’s parliament called it a “direct insult to the memory of millions” of Soviet soldiers who, in the words of the parliament, “gave their lives for the freedom of Europe from the fascist yoke.”

Former independent Russian parliament Deputy Vladimir Ryzhkov says what he calls the “official” Russian position on the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact is “extremely strange.” 
Ryzhkov asks why today’s Russia, which has a democratic constitution and new democratic legitimacy, should justify the division of Europe between Hitler and Stalin.

He says that this view is now included in Russian history text books and has caused “enormous moral damage” to Russia’s reputation, particularly in the countries of Eastern Europe that were the main victims of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact.  Ryzhkov says the only explanation for the Russian leadership’s position on the issue is what he calls “sympathy for Stalin.”

Public opinion surveys suggest many ordinary Russians share at least some of their government’s views.

A poll conducted by the state-run VTsIOM agency, following the OSCE resolution condemning Stalinism and Nazism, found that 53 percent of the respondents across Russia viewed it negatively, while 11 percent viewed it positively and 21 percent viewed it neutrally. In addition, 59 percent of those polled said the resolution was aimed at undermining Russia’s authority in the world and diminishing its contribution to the defeat of Nazi Germany. 

Dmitry Furman of the Russian Academy of Science’s Institute of Europe calls the presidential commission to counter what it deems historical falsification an “idiotic undertaking” and a “very bad idea.” He also says Stalin’s government killed as many, or even more people than Hitler’s.

But, given the suffering Russians endured after Hitler turned on Stalin and invaded the Soviet Union, Furman says it is natural that many resist equating Stalinism and Nazism.
Furman says it is “very difficult psychologically” for Russians to put what they see as their “victors” in the Great Patriotic War, as they call World War II, on the same level with the vanquished Nazis.

From VOANews.com

See also: The anniversary approaches

The misreading of the Resolution

As the 70th anniversary of the signing of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact approaches, the Russian authorities appear to be set on finding justifications for the atrocities that were committed by Stalin’s regime. They are persisting with their plan to bring in a law that will impose criminal liability on anyone – whether individual, group or state authority – who attempts to draw a parallel between the crimes of Nazism and those of Stalinism. At Maidan, Halya Coynash examines the background to the law, and the cynical assumptions that inevitably underlie it. In particular, the proposed legislation represents a deliberate misreading of the PACE resolution:

It is difficult of late to rid oneself of the feeling that the Russian authorities are trying to shout down half the world. Mr Koperov’s point of view regarding the recent OSCE Parliamentary Assembly Resolution “Divided Europe Reunited” (hereafter the Resolution) is repeated by Russia’s Council of the Federation which “strongly condemns attempts to give a biased interpretation of historical facts”. The following is clearly prompted by the Resolution:

“they are resorting to active efforts to reconsider the real reasons for the War and to place blame for the beginning of the War equally on the USSR and Hitler’s Germany and at the same time to absolve those who abetted the Nazis and committed crimes on the territory of countries occupied by the Nazis”.

It would be worth seeking an assessment of the Council’s following conclusions from both political analysts and psychiatrists however there is something else which is even more staggering. There is absolutely nothing in the Resolution which even remotely warrants such an accusation. The Resolution states that:

“in the 20th century, European countries experienced two major totalitarian regimes, the Nazi and the Stalinist, which brought along genocide, violations of human rights and freedoms, war crimes and crimes against humanity.”

It only recalls “the initiative of the European Parliament to proclaim 23 August, when the Ribbentrop –Molotov pact was signed 70 years ago, as a Europe-wide Day of Remembrance for Victims of Stalinism and Nazism, in order to preserve the memory of the victims of mass deportations and exterminations”

Do we have a situation like the statements once made in the Soviet Union about the novel “Doctor Zhivago” – “I haven’t read it but I know that it’s disgusting anti-Soviet propaganda”? Hardly likely: the Resolution is put succinctly and it is difficult to imagine that nobody is following the bemused reactions from various organizations, including Memorial, which have already publicly pointed out the bizarre misreading.

I suspect they were counting on something else. They assumed that the Resolution would not be read and that people would simply be indignant at entirely fabricated disrespect for the soldiers of the Red Army. People would be right to feel indignation – were there even a modicum of truth in the allegations. There is not.

Read it all.